Brand Innovators 2022 Outlook: Travel

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In the seventh installment of our new 2022 Outlook Series, Brand Innovators talks to Travel marketing leaders for insights into what to expect next year, and what the category will look like as bucket list travel and business trips are expected to return.

After a couple of years sticking closer to home, revenge travel is expected by industry experts in 2022.

International travel is showing signs of bouncing back. Bucket list trips are on the agenda. Business trips are coming back. Travel is expected to reach $2 trillion in the U.S. in 2022, according to a new report from the World Travel & Tourism Council.

“Regarding travel and hospitality marketing, I predict that 2022 will include a big push for ‘bucket list’ tourism and experiences; people will no longer consider trips that may occur ‘one day’ but rather be thinking about, planning and booking trips for ‘some day’ soon and in the near future,” said Christine Kettmer, senior director of global enterprise insight & strategy at Marriott. “As more destinations continue to open back up, unique experiences will simultaneously become more inclusive yet accessible. Dream vacations will convert into realities.”

As consumers return to travel, they will be seeking out travel brands that can help them feel comfortable and that connect to them on a human level.

“Brands will need to lead with empathy to win the share of heart and mind,” said Lisa Copeland, director of loyalty marketing and customer acquisition at Hilton. “The future of marketing must be nimble, agile, and relevant in order to win over the customer of today and tomorrow. Brands that are thoughtfully investing in long term brand health through deepening customer relationships while still focusing on short term performance will end up on top.”

Lou Dubois, director of global editorial content at Hilton, thinks that storytelling will be essential for brands looking to connect with consumers, many of whom are making their first trips in years and may need some reassurance and reminders on how to travel again.

“As the world emerges from the pandemic, the rise of purpose-driven and values-driven brand storytelling will grow ever more important. Instead of focusing solely on pushing products and selling services, showing customers who you are and what you stand for as an organization, including important human stories, will lead to deeper connections and ultimately better business relationships with the public,” said Dubois.

Vaccinations have helped stimulate the category which was ground to a halt by the pandemic in 2020. Pent up demand is bringing people back to hotels and airplanes and as consumers feel more comfortable traveling again. In fact, ​​air travel this year is up 94% over 2020, per Adara, and people are expected to fly even more next year.

Consumers have changed over the last couple of years and their threshold for digital engagement has never been higher. Brands looking to connect will need to stay on top of emerging innovations and digital spaces where people are spending their time. 

“Traditional models and approaches for campaigns will continue to fall by the wayside,” said Natalie Bowman, managing director of marketing and advertising at Alaska Airlines. “The brands who don’t take themselves too seriously and move the fastest to capitalize on community-driven content win. Whether it’s creating branded worlds in the metaverse, using an Emily Zugay designed logo or investing in branded NFTs – the brands that react first reap outsized rewards.”

Kristi Gole, vice president & head of transformation at Global Hotel Alliance, said customer segmentation and personalization efforts are rapidly evolving. 

“There is increasing potential to account for additional layers like context, sentiment, and behavior on top of the traditional demographic, geographic and purchase-based data, and to make it dynamic. Personas are not as useful as they once were. Customers are individuals who play many roles and have varying needs at different times,” said Gole. “The challenge – and opportunity – is to develop the framework where all of the marketing messages across channels and touchpoints can flex and match to who they are at that exact moment, seeking their input as much as possible in the process (options for direction and feedback loops).”

Jason Pirock, vice president of marketing at Aparium Hotel Group noted that data will continue to be king and that first-party data will be key. “Not just due to cookie-less marketing becoming closer to reality, but we're seeing tech companies continually pulling in the reins (and taking a stance against) on how they're tracking behavior as well as enforcing privacy policies,” said Pirock. “Humans want to feel connected to a brand, which in many ways comes down to personalization, so in a way it's forcing us marketers to evaluate how we interact with others anyway.”

Consumer values will also be top-of-mind in 2022, as consumers seek to spend their money with travel brands that support how they see the world, whether that means brands that stand up for social justice or support efforts to fight climate change.

“We will see more purpose-driven marketing and partnerships that align with company and consumer values,” said Rachel Mansfield, vice president of marketing at Getaway. “Our company and our guests have acknowledged the impact of our Year of Rest program, offering 365 nights of rest for people fighting for change for the Black community. Getaway has always strived to be a place where people can feel safe while enjoying time in nature and connecting with loved ones. It has always been important to us to provide rest and access to nature to those who need it most.”

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